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Thursday, 18 November 2010 00:00


Gods, Demons and humans living together in perfect harmony. Who'd have though it. Harmony comes to a sudden end for Rin Tsuchimi in Shuffle!, though, when the King of the Gods and the King of the Devils both decide he'd make the perfect husband for their teenage daughters. Now there's a though choice for a guy to make...

Rin Tsuchimi's parents were killed in an accident some years ago, but fortunately he's not having to look after himself, as childhood friend Kaede Fuyou - whose home he now lives in - is there to help out. But if you think this is going to be a story of normal high-school life, forget it - with the doors to the realms of the Gods and the Demons having been accidentally opened a few years earlier, the residents of those realms are common sights on Earth, and both the King of the Gods and the King of the Demons have decided that Rin would be a good match for their beautiful daughters Sia and Nerine. When they move next door to Rin & the girls transfer into his school, 'normal' becomes a thing of the past. But each of the girls around Rin is haunted by pieces of their pasts, as Rin will uncover as he finds his own path to true love...

No western animation would ever be so politically incorrect as to have a group called the KKK running around in a show. Sure, in this case it stands (in the original Japanese, anyway) for "kitto kitto Kaede-chan" and has nothing to do with the other KKK, but people seem to take offence at even the smallest things these days. Anime tends not to worry about such details, though, and that's one of many reasons I love it so.

It probably won't surprise anyone to hear that Shuffle! is an eroge game conversion - there have actually been three of 'em based on these characters (Shuffle! and it's toned-down version Shuffle! On the Stage, Really? Really! and Tick! Tack!). I live in dread of these, as there are as many truly terrible examples of eroge-cum-anime kicking about as there are half-decent ones. Fortunately, Shuffle! makes it quite comfortably onto the decent side, with a fun premise, a reasonable amount of fanservice (without going too far over-the-top) and a cute harem to keep Rin busy. What's not to like?

At first glance, the impression that I've seen most it it before, that's what. If I had a pound for every show that started with the childhood-friend-waking-sleepyhead-guy-for-school scene, I'd be rich enough that I wouldn't have to worry about the day job - I'd be able to waste as much of my time around here as I wanted. That, and there's only so much you can do with a harem. But Shuffle! has hidden depths.

Impressions, first. The show is nicely animated with the presentation done in a way that adds to the humour, and has a cast of characters that are almost without exception well-developed, both in the visual and personality senses. Yes, the show may seem unoriginal at first glance, but with the benefit of having seen the series in full before, I can safely say that Shuffle! throws the harem rulebook out of the window once it really gets into its stride. The series is split into several distinct arcs: the initial introductions for each of the five main girls - one episode each; a central passage which reveals the hidden secrets that most of the girls hide (which I'm not going to reveal here, although if you don't mind being spoiled to some fairly major plot points you can carry on to the episode summaries on the following pages); the process of Rin finally choosing which of the girls he's in love with and finding a way to let the others down as gently as possible; and finally one major issue that Rin and his new love must deal with - happiness awaits if this trial is dealt with successfully, while death for one or both is the price of failure. No lightweight harem show here, then.

You'll notice one other detail there that you don't often get from one-guy-loadsa-girls shows: Rin makes a choice, and well before the end of the series. That alone is remarkable enough to make Shuffle! worth watching, while the story arcs that lead up to it reveal almost Key-esque levels of Bad Things™ that have happened to most of the girls - for all its bright, cutesy appearance, the series reveals a darker side as it goes on that makes it riveting viewing. Even though the pulling on the heartstrings isn't as successful as Key have managed.

The key to it all is the girls, who are a decently varied bunch. Kaede lives with Rin, and very much lives for him, too - she's got a worrying level of devotion to her lodger which stems from the circumstances in which her mother, and Rin's parents, died many years before. Let's just say, beware the quiet ones. Lisianthus (or Sia, for short) is daughter to the king of the Gods, and you could probably say she's a little bit tsundere - charming and fun with Rin, but prone to whacking people over the head with whatever chairs are handy when riled (and it's usually her father that falls victim to this). Nerine is daughter to the king of the demons, and like Sia is in love with Rin on account of him being remarkably nice to her when they were children - although in both cases Rin doesn't remember their initial meetings. Unlike Sia, though, she's composed and polite - at least until you anger here. Asa it Rin's tomboy friend, a year older than him, who loves teasing him but who has health problems that often leave her bedridden; while finally there's Primula, a young girl who has escaped from the world of demons and who also feels a connection to Rin on account of actions that he doesn't remember. She's the least appealing of the bunch as her personality is essentially a blank slate, showing little emotion - but there are reasons for that that the series eventually explores.

Between the five of them they cover most of the spectrum of fan tastes - that's what ergo tend to do, of course - and Primula aside they all have unique, interesting personalities. Which one you pick as your favourite may well affect how much you enjoy the show, as there can only be one "winner" (and I chose wisely, which helps), but all five get story arcs of their own and plenty of character development. Even Rin isn't lacking in that department, which is a pleasant surprise in a genre where the male lead is often left as bland as possible. If you take against a particular character, then you may run into trouble while they're getting their share of screentime, but in general the stories presented are good enough to keep you engaged whoever they focus on.

The end result is a series that pleasantly surprises, although is a little way short of being a classic. For some reason, FUNimation chose to focus their marketing for Shuffle! on the fanservice aspect ("More panties in one episode than any other show!" - which was stretching the truth somewhat anyway), and that does the show a real disservice. There are real moments of drama, mystery and sadness here, in amongst the comedy, and it's really hard not to get attached to at least one of the girls - which is what the series ultimately sets out to do. Within the eroge-conversion genre, it's possibly the best of the bunch; and at the very least it's a damned good series. Worth checking out.

Rating - ****